Asylum

 
Teen horror tale has promising premise, half-baked plot.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Dan's interest in history and psychiatry drives his research into the asylum's past. Intensely vivid descriptions and photographs bring home the full horror of what used to happen to unfortunate patients.

Positive messages

Friendship and family loyalty are important -- and tightly connect the teens to sinister forces.

Positive role models

Dan and his friends are brave and believably flawed as they attempt to make sense of ominous portents and worse events.

Violence

Many scenes practically guaranteed to give the sensitive reader nightmares: a young man gets electroshock therapy to "cure" his homosexuality; a spirited 10-year-old girl is lobotomized; and other vignettes show what passed for mental health treatment in the olden days. Central to the plot, both past and present, is a serial killer renowned for arranging his victims in gruesome, lifelike poses -- who may or may not be connected to the murders that befall unsuspecting characters.

 

Sex

Some kissing.

Language

Frequent use of "s--,t" "ass," and variations thereof.

Consumerism

Dan spends a lot of time Googling. Much mention of mass-market products, mostly for atmosphere and character definition, e.g. Diet Coke, Little Debbies. Also references to media icons from Oprah to The Hunger Games and The X-Files.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One of the teen characters drinks a lot as part of a downward spiral.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Asylum is a horror novel in which archaic, violent psychiatric treatments of the mid-20th century come to terrifying life in story, illustrations, and old photographs from mental institutions. Also, someone is committing visually grotesque murders just like those of a serial killer once confined at the institution that now serves as a dorm. There's a tender budding romance between two characters, and a gay teen is traumatized by his parents' rejection. There's also a lot of profanity, mostly "s--t," "ass," and variations. In keeping with the horror genre, characters are quite heedless of Keep Out signs and other things that would serve as warnings to the wise.

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What's the story?

Geeky 16-year-old Dan Crawford is thrilled to be attending an elite college prep summer program in New Hampshire, where he hopes to make some real friends and soon connects with Abby and Jordan. Things start to get weird fast when the teens are housed in an old building that used to be an ASYLUM for the insane -- with which each of them turns out to have some connection. Before long they are exploring forbidden portions of the building and discovering the horrors of the past; meanwhile, strange happenings on campus lead to killings that bear the signature of a serial killer who was once a patient there.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

As an exposé of ghastly conditions for anyone with the misfortune to land in the "mental health" facilities of decades past, Asylum is dramatically effective. Personal tales are revealed in both the text and illustrations -- chiefly old photographs from such institutions that suggest torture far more than medical treatment. But as a story, the novel is less successful, though some of its many disconnects and unexplained events may be resolved in the planned sequel. Things happen and revelations occur at a relentless pace, often with little internal logic other than a barrage of scariness; the cartoonishness of the characters and the horror genre (author Roux turns to teen fiction from two previous zombie novels) sits uneasily with the vivid, real horrors inflicted on real people that are central to the plot.

Families can talk about...

  • Why do you think horror novels are so popular? Is it fun to be scared?

  • What do you know about psychiatric treatment today, especially for kids and teens? Do you know any families who sent their kid away to a treatment facility? How did it turn out?

  • Dan has a lot of baggage from years in the foster-care system. Do you know any foster kids? What issues are they dealing with? How did they end up in the system?

Book details

Author:Madeleine Roux
Genre:Horror
Topics:Adventures, Friendship, High school, History, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:August 20, 2013
Number of pages:320
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 17
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of Asylum was written by

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Quality

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  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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